Hamilton closes in on title after Japan winposted in F108 | 10 | 2017

    LEWIS HAMILTON TOOK a significant step towards his third successive Formula 1 World Championship, and fourth in total, when he dominated the Japanese Grand Prix. He now leads by 59 points with only four races, and 100 points remaining. In contrast, his closest rival for the title, Sebastian Vettel, was forced to retire his Ferrari after only four laps.

    The German’s car displayed problems even before the race started. As his Ferrari sat on the grid, his crew removed the cover from the engine to check a spark plug problem.

    Vettel’s lack of pace was immediately noticeable. Starting on the front row of the grid alongside pole sitter Hamilton, Vettel was picked off at the hairpin on the opening lap by Max Verstappen, the Dutchman having already passed his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. (Related: Verstappen cruises to Malaysia GP win)

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    At the start of the second lap, Vettel had dropped another three places. A temporary respite came under a brief safety car period caused when  Carlos Sainz crashed his Toro Rosso at Turn 6. But as soon as the race restarted, Vettel slumped to eighth before he received the call from the team informing him to pit and retire.

    Hamilton meanwhile established a four-second lead over Verstappen before the 20-year-old pitted on lap 21 to ditch his super-softs for softs. Hamilton covered the Red Bull driver by pitting on the next lap to cover the undercut.

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    Verstappen managed to close the gap to Hamilton, who was being held up by his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the gap back to Vverstappen shrunk to within a second.

    But as soon as Bottas allowed Hamilton to pass at the Casio Triangle at the midway point, and the Finn started to hold up Verstappen, the gap had increased to 3.4s before the No2 Mercedes driver pitted on lap 30.

    And though Verstappen — who won seven days ago in Malaysia — then managed to cut Hamilton's advantage to a little over two seconds, he couldn't keep up the pace until Hamilton found himself impeded by Fernando Alonso on lap 51.

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    The delay allowed Verstappen to close the gap to within a second at the start of the final lap but more traffic allowed Hamilton to escape once more and seal the win by a slight margin.

    “The start was okay, although the initial getaway was not spectacularly good, I had a bit of wheel spin. But from then on I had a good start and it was pretty much under control from there,” Hamilton said after clinching the 61st GP win of his career.

    “I was trying to manage the pace and the tyres; it was a long way to go, it was the hottest the track had been all weekend, so that was really crucial.

    “With the VSC towards the end, I lost a lot of temperatures in the tyres and waking them up was not so easy. I got stuck behind traffic, I was losing so much time and Max’ car was so big in my mirror. It was very close for a couple laps, but I was able to keep it together.

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    “It was not an easy walk in the park today, it was a win that I had to work very hard for. Great race by Max, I enjoyed racing him.

    “It’s almost unbelievable to think we are where we are in the championship. I was excited to race Sebastian today, but he was obviously very unfortunate. It’s still a long way to go, there are still a hundred points. I’m just going to keep my head down and hopefully will continue to be in a form like this.”

    Ricciardo held on to clinch the final podium position after a succession of fastest laps late, while the sole surviving Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth. The Finn was forced to recover after dropping to 15th on the opening lap when he was forced wide at Spoon by Nico Hulkenberg.

    Sixth and seventh were filled by the Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez respectively, while an aggressive late move at Turn 1 on the Williams of Felipe Massa gave Kevin Magnussen eighth, one place ahead of his Haas team-mate Romain Grosjean.

    Massa completed the top 10, with Alonso just missing out on a championship point for McLaren in the team’s final home race for Honda as engine partner. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne came home 14th.

    F1 — Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka. Result:

    1. Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport 53 laps

    2. Max Verstappen NED Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer +1.211s

    3. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer +9.679s

    4. Valtteri Bottas FIN Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport +10.580s

    5. Kimi Raikkonen FIN Scuderia Ferrari +32.622s

    6. Esteban Ocon FRA Sahara Force India-Mercedes +67.788s

    7. Sergio Perez MEX Sahara Force India-Mercedes +71.424s

    8. Kevin Magnussen DEN Haas-Ferrari +88.953s

    9. Romain Grosjean FRA Haas-Ferrari +89.883s

    10. Felipe Massa BRA Williams Martini Racing-Mercedes +1 lap

    11. Fernando Alonso ESP McLaren-Honda +1 lap

    12. Jolyon Palmer GBR Renault Sport F1 +1 lap

    13. Pierre Gasly FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault +1 lap

    14. Stoffel Vandoorne BEL McLaren-Honda +1 lap

    15. Pascal Wehrlein GER Sauber-Ferrari +2 laps

     

    Did not finish

    Lance Stroll CAN Williams Martini Racing-Mercedes

    Nico Hulkenberg GER Renault Sport F1

    Marcus Ericsson SWE Sauber-Ferrari

    Sebastian Vettel GER Scuderia Ferrari

    Carlos Sainz SPA Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault

    Related: McNish delighted with Audi Formula E test

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    Jim McGill

     

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